31 October 2013

Easy Clean Oven

Just recently I was talking to a friend in Dapto (online of course!) about cleaning ovens. We shared a few ideas and then I remembered this tip from the Tip Store that I now use every time I clean the oven, and to clean the trivets off the cooktop and even the grill plates off the barbecue. It's brilliant and is the easiest way to keep things sparkling clean, you'll never scrub those oven racks again.

An Overnight Soak With Laundry Powder Keeps Oven Cleaning Easy
I hate cleaning my oven. The sprays I have bought never really do a good job and the smell is terrible. I have found that soaking my oven racks in hot water with 1 or 2 scoops of laundry powder overnight works wonders. Very little scrubbing for the stubborn stains and the racks come up like new.
Contributed by Lesley, Noble Park

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30 October 2013

Teaching Kids to Manage Money

Pocket money has benefits, and not just spending power for the kids who get it. The benefits of pocket money are many, if children are encouraged to look at it as income. When children are taught to manage their pocket money, they grow into adults who know how to manage their money and live within their means.

They learn money management safely. When children learn to manage their pocket money under a parent's care and guidance they are able to fail in a relatively safe haven. It doesn't mean we have to bail them out when they make poor money choices, but it does mean we can support them as they figure out how to recover and move forward to financial stability.

Pocket money can make kids feel good about themselves. They can make their own decisions on how to use that money (with our supervision) without having to answer to anyone else. You like having your own money that you don’t have to account for so you can imagine how empowering it is to a child. It's up to us as adults to show them how to give freely, save willingly and habitually and spend wisely. Pocket money allows this to happen.

For pocket money to teach children anything it needs to be consistent. That means giving it every week without fail. Consistency is the secret to building savings and it's the secret to teaching kids to effectively manage their money. Don't start giving it if you are not going to keep it up.

It's important that the money be earned. If it's just a hand out it doesn't have any value. Set chores that must be done to earn their "pay". In our house these were jobs that weren't a part of the day-to-day running of the house. Things like car cleaning and washing, extra gardening, and ironing. We didn't pay for cleaning bedrooms or doing dishes or putting laundry out or feeding the cat or taking the rubbish out. Those chores are part of being a family and everyone does them. They were also expected to help occasionally because it was needed. We didn't want our kids to grow up with the expectation that they would only help or do chores if they were paid.

How much pocket money you give is up to you. Some families start with $1 per year of age up to a set amount, others give a flat rate. Some families give more pocket money but expect the child to pay for everything with it i.e clothes, mobile phone bills, movies, birthday gifts, bus fares, school excursions and so on. How you work it out is up to you, but you must make it a part of your Spending Plan so you will always have the money to hand over. You wouldn't like your boss telling you they didn't have the money to pay you and your kids won't like it either. If you agree to pocket money you must uphold your end of the agreement.

Letting kids control their money teaches them how to budget. They learn to save for the things they want. They'll learn to shop around for the best price. They may even learn a few haggling skills they'll be able to use as adults.

With pocket money comes responsibility. Young children won't have as much responsibility as older children. It also teaches them accountability. If they can learn those two things as children then life as adults will be much easier for them.

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29 October 2013

Roast Chicken Tostadas

This is a tasty way to stretch a roast chicken without appearing to be serving leftovers.  It makes a substantial lunch or turn it into a hearty dinner by serving with Mexican Rice.

2 cups cooked chicken (leftover from a roast)        
1/2 cup coriander leaves, cleaned and chopped
2 tablespoons paprika                
1 mango, peeled, seeded and diced
4 avocadoes        
1 large tomato, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed        
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
2 limes, juiced        
1/2 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
2 chillies, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
12 corn tostadas

To make the salsa, mix the mango, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, coriander and lime juice in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

To make the guacamole halve the avocadoes and remove seeds. Scoop out avocadoes with a spoon and into a mixing bowl. Add crushed garlic and squeeze lime juice from 1 lime over the avocadoes. Mash the avocadoes using a fork, being careful not to over-mash. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently. Add more lime juice to taste. Fold in coriander and chili. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to press the wrap directly onto the surface of the guacamole to help prevent browning.

Toss the shredded chicken with the paprika. Spoon some of the meat onto each tostada and serve with the cheese, coriander leaves, guacamole and salsa.

If you can’t find tostadas, you can use taco shells instead.

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28 October 2013

MOO Lip Balms for beautiful lips all year round

Lip balm is one cosmetic item you want to be absolutely sure is safe to use. After all you put it on your lips, where it's licked and smeared right into your mouth.

Lip balms contain lots of ingredients, many of them almost impossible to pronounce, and yet they are so easy to make (and cheaper than buying them too!).

I use little jam jars my local café saves for me to make little pots of lip balm. You can buy the screw type lipstick tubes from eBay or your local craft shop if you'd rather have it in a tube. The jars are free, re-usable and small enough to fit in a handbag so I've never bothered with the tubes.

You will need:

1 part beeswax
2 parts shea or cocoa butter
2 parts coconut oil
20 drops of essential oil of choice (more or less to your preference, I like peppermint or orange)

Step 1.  Put about 3 centimetres of water in the bottom of a small pan and turn on medium heat.

Step 2
.  Place a small (500ml or smaller) jar in the water, being careful not to get in water inside the jar.

Step 3
.  Place all ingredients except the essential oils inside the glass jar and slowly melt, making sure not to get any water in jar. I use 2 tablespoons each of shea butter and coconut oil and 1 tablespoons of beeswax. This fills about 12 little single serve jam jars. When all ingredients are melted, stir well and turn off heat, but leave jar in the water to keep warm.

Step 4
.  Stir in the essential oils.

Step 5
. Use a glass dropper to quickly fill the containers. I leave the jar in the water but turn off the heat to keep the ingredients liquid while I do this so the mixture remains liquid enough to drop.

Step 6
. The mixture will settle slightly as it cools, so top up the containers after about 2 minutes as they start to harden. This will keep the tops level and prevent a dip in the middle.

Step 7.  Let sit without touching overnight or until completely hardened. Store in a cool dry place (they will last for at least a year if stored correctly).

Make sure all your equipment is spotlessly clean and sterilise your jars before you start to melt your butters and wax.

Peppermint essential oil makes a cooling and soothing lip balm for summer but use your favourite essential oil.

This lip balm will last for up to a year if they are stored in a cool, dry place, making them ideal to make and give as gifts.

To increase the recipe follow the proportions of 1 part beeswax to 2 parts butter and increase the essential oil accordingly i.e. 2 tablespoons beeswax, 4 tablespoons butter (and you can combine the butters i.e. 2 tablespoons cocoa butter, 2 tablespoons shea butter) and 4 tablespoons coconut oil, up to 40 drops of essential oil.

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26 October 2013

Something to think about while you work in your garden this weekend

I don't have heroes, but this is one man I do admire.

This interview is long, it takes a while to read, although that could be because like me, you'll find yourself re-reading and then going back and reading it again, so it sinks in.

Interview with the Lunatic Farmer Joel Salatin

25 October 2013

This Chocolate Sauce is the Perfect Gift

If you love to give handmade, edible gifts, you are going to love giving this chocolate sauce, if you can resist keeping it for yourself.  It's so easy and cheap to make and you really will become famous for giving the best gifts.

You will need:
60g milk chocolate
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons hot coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Step 1. Melt the chocolate.

Step 2. Pour the chocolate, hot coffee, sugar and vanilla into a blender. Blend until smooth.

Step 3. Pour into small, sterilised jars and refrigerate up to 10 days (I guarantee it won't last that long once it's tasted).

When cold, you can use this sauce as icing on cakes, or warm it and pour it over ice cream.

It takes less than five minutes to make and uses ingredients just about everyone has in the house. As a last minute hostess, thank-you, birthday or even Christmas gift it is perfect. Of course you have to get it away from the family to be able to give it so I suggest you make a double batch, one to enjoy and one to give.

If you do give it as a gift, make it just before you need to give it, put it in a pretty jar (small jam or salsa jars are nice) and label it "A Gift of Chocolate Sauce" with the expiry date (it keeps for 10 days) and refrigeration instructions on it.


24 October 2013

MOO Brown Sugar Scrub

If you love body scrubs but find the really nice ones expensive and the cheaper ones tend to be not so nice, you'll love this one. It's not only nice, but cheap and you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now!

You will need:
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
A jar with a screw top lid to store it (I used a pretty recycled jam jar)

Mix the honey into the olive oil, then stir the mixture into the brown sugar until it's all combined. Spoon it into your jar.

That's it.

Use it on your hands after a day in the garden and you'll love how smooth and silky and moisturised they are.

Make a bulk lot, put it in pretty jars, tie a cute label on it and give it as gifts - it's a great teacher or thank you gift and a lovely stocking stuffer for Christmas.

And best of all, it will cost you under $1 to make if you use recycled jars and labels you have or make from wrapping paper.

23 October 2013

The Swear Savings Jar System

This is an article from the July 2013 Cheapskates Journal that I thought I'd share with you. I've been reading a lot about the downside of saving coins this week, so I thought I'd share a "positive" with you.

Cheapskates Club members can login to read the entire Journal, and any back issues.

The Swear Savings Jar System

It's the start of a new financial year so I thought it time to come up with a fun, simple and effective way to save.

There's no need to completely adjust your lifestyle in order to save for either a short or long-term savings goal. You can slowly, but steadily add to your savings by using the swear saving jar system to add to your savings each and every day of the week.

Remember the "swear jar"? You may have had one at home or at the office. It was the jar you dropped your fine into if you swore or cursed.

Well the savings jar is a modified version of the swear jar.

Instead of dropping money into the jar each time you curse, you drop money into the jar each time you mention (or have recurring thoughts of) your savings goal. As long as your savings goal is important to you, you're going to express quite a bit of verbal lust, and then enjoy the game as you focus on your savings!

If your goal is less than $500, you may be able to use an average sized jar or cereal canister. However, for a more sizeable goal, many people prefer to use an oversized flowerpot or a large tin can (a recycled 500g or even 1 kilo coffee tin is good) to stash their savings.

How to Implement the System

First and foremost, it's important to understand that simply dropping coins into a jar will take you ages to achieve your savings goals. You may want to up the ante and start placing notes into your jar.

Generally, $5 notes are small enough that you may be able to comfortably drop one into the jar once or more each day without feeling a financial pinch. But if finances are tough, you can start by placing $1 into your jar each time you mention your goal.

Three simple rules will see your savings jar grow each day:

1. Choose your denomination. Choose your denomination between $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 and stick to it.

    • If you need to drop $10 into your jar and only find that you have smaller notes or coins, place as many notes and coins as necessary into the jar until you reach $10. It is okay to place different notes into the jar as long as you're putting in the amount you planned.

2. Set a minimum. If your goal is something you wouldn't talk about on a daily basis (such as a new verandah), set a minimum deposit for each day.

    • For example, if your denomination is $20, vow to drop a minimum of $20 into your jar at the end of each day, regardless of whether or not you mention your goal. At the end of just the first month, you'll have saved a minimum of $600 into your jar. Emptying the coins from your purse or wallet each evening will help you reach your daily limit quickly.

3. No cheating. Make it a strict rule that you must make a deposit into your jar each time you mention your goal. If you let yourself off the hook once, you're more likely to do it next time and thereafter.

    • If you routinely talk about your goal throughout the day and feel that a $5 or $10 donation to the jar is a bit steep, it's best to stick with a $1 denomination. If you talk about your goal five times per day, you'll still have $5 at the end of the day and up to $150 at the end of the month.

The saving jar system works because it's user friendly and risk free. Yes, you may be placing a considerable amount of money into the jar, but it will motivate you to ramp up your efforts as you see your savings mounting every single day.

Unlike financing the purchase you're saving for, if for any reason you were to encounter a financial emergency you'll be able to dig into your savings jar and continue your efforts once you're on a positive financial footing.

And best of all, again unlike financing the purchase, you'll actually own it when you get it!

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22 October 2013

A new workshop

I've just announced a new workshop, The Art of Living the Cheapskates Way. 

Places are limited to 20 for this hands on workshop to be held on Thursday 28th November, 2013. 

Click here for more information and to book your seat.

I'm looking forward to a morning of fun and frugality, sharing hints, tips, ideas and practical solutions to living life debt free, cashed up and laughing and hope you can join the fun.

Mexican Zucchini

This is a great end of summer recipe, when zucchini are fresh and plentiful in the garden. And it's also a great eat the excess frozen zucchini recipe, perfect for using up that freezer stash before the next crop is ready to freeze.

It's versatile. You can add to it to bulk it out. Try shredded chicken or use refried beans instead of baked beans. Add extra vegetables such as corn and diced capsicum for colour. We eat this as a main meal, wrapped in tortillas and it's good and filling. Use it as a side to grilled fish, chicken or steak and it's just as good. Leave the bacon out for a vegetarian version. Add the jalapenos to taste - more if you like it hot, less if you want a milder flavour.

Mexican Zucchini

1 tbsp oil
1.5kg zucchini or squash, diced
1 large tomato, diced
125g sliced, bottled jalapenos
1/4 cup water
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 strips of bacon (cooked and crumbled)
1 cup grated cheese
1 cup cooked rice
1 can baked beans
8 tortillas to serve

Heat the oil in a large fry pan (or use a non-stick pan if you are avoiding oils). Combine the zucchini, tomato, chilli and garlic. Cook for five minutes until the zucchini is just starting to soften. Add the grated cheese and mix through. Add the bacon, rice and baked beans and stir through gently so you don't break up the beans. Simmer until heated through. To serve warm tortillas. Put a serving of Mexican Zucchini on plate with tortillas on side. Use tortillas to scoop zucchini or wrap in tortillas and enjoy.

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21 October 2013

Bring a little Christmas joy into your home

This craft was inspired by the beautiful range of Christmas wrapping papers appearing in the shops, some wooden letters and a desire to create something new to add to our Christmas décor this year.

It took all of about 20 minutes to make too - so quick and easy, and very cheap if you use materials you already have.

You will need:
1 picture frame
Wooden letters to spell out your word (I spelled out JOY, they were the letters I had in the craft cupboard)
Wrapping paper - choose your colour and theme, I used a beautiful black and silver Christmas paper
Spray craft paint to complement your wrapping paper
Clear glue
Hot glue gun or strong wood glue

Step 1. Take your picture frame apart. Spray the frame with the craft paint (I used silver).  Spray your letters, front and back. Set the frame and the letters aside to dry.

Step 2. Put the glass from the frame on top of the backing board. Measure and then cut wrapping paper to fit. Wrap the glass and the backing board together in the paper.

Step 3.
When the paint on the lettering has dried, spread each letter with a thin layer of clear glue. Put the letters on a large sheet of paper (this will catch the excess glitter). Carefully spread the glitter over each letter, gently tapping the excess glitter off each one onto the sheet of paper. Put them aside to dry. Use the paper to funnel the excess glitter back into the glitter jar - you'll be amazed at how much you'll be able to save.

Step 4. When the frame has dried re-assemble it.

Step 5.
Centre the letters in the frame until you are happy with the arrangement. Using your hot glue gun stick each letter in place.

That's it, all done!

I used materials I already had, so this decoration cost nothing and looks spectacular. It will be a lovely  addition to our Christmas décor and I have just the spot for it on the lamp table.

19 October 2013

Melt in Your Mouth Heaven and a Thank You

Thank you, everyone, for your get well wishes and kind thoughts, prayers and lovely emails. You have no idea how they've cheered me up. My illness isn't a secret, it was just sudden, unexpected, took us all totally by surprise, caught us unawares - you get the idea.

Last Sunday I was fine, pottering around in the garden in between rain showers and catching glimpses of the car racing on TV. About 4am Monday morning I wasn't so fine, by 7.30am it was decided I needed a doctor and by 8am I was in hospital. Lots of poking, prodding, pricking, x-raying and scanning was done to get a diagnosis and it was a very long, painful day. Upshot is I will get well. It will take time. I am home now. I will need to make some lifestyle changes for six weeks or so. And I have to swallow a couple of tablets a day for a few weeks. Oh, and I really, really, REALLY appreciate just how comfortable and cosy our bed is and how nice it is to sleep in a quiet house.

While I've been out of action Hannah has done an amazing job of keeping things running, both on the website and at home. And all this while she's been concentrating on her last week of school before the end-of-Year-12 craziness begins.

One of the things she does very well is bake. From a little girl she's loved baking and experimenting with ingredients to create new treats for us. All of them have been memorable, mostly for good reason, with the occasional bad memory in there. She's a good sport about it and takes the ribbing from her brothers with a stern "keep it up and I won't make any more cup cakes" as she wags her finger at them.

This week she's been baking a lot, I think as a stress release. It's been late night baking, which seems to be when she gets her inspiration.

And one of her inspirations was to use the limp carrots in the fridge and sad looking sultanas in the pantry to make carrot cake. It was delicious, topped with a luscious, thick layer of coconut cream cheese icing. It is absolutely the best icing for carrot cake, you just have to try it.

Carrot Cake

3 eggs
1 cup white sugar
¾ cup cooking oil
1-1/3 cup plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons bicarb soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups grated raw carrot
½ cup roughly chopped walnuts
½ cup sultanas
1 teaspoon vanilla

Grease an 20cm square tin. Heat oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Beat eggs and sugar until frothy. Add oil, stir in sifted dry ingredients and lastly fold in carrots, nuts and vanilla. Bake for 1 hour. When cool ice as below. (Cake can be frozen before icing it).

Coconut Cream Cheese Icing

250g cream cheese (not light)
1/4 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp coconut oil, warmed to a liquid
1 tbsp coconut milk (or cow's milk if you don't have coconut milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely grated orange rind
shredded coconut for sprinkling if you want to


Take the cream cheese from the fridge about 30 minutes before you are going to use it to bring it to room temperature. Place in a bow and beat until soft. Gradually add the icing sugar, coconut oil, coconut milk and vanilla. Beat at high speed until the mixture is glossy and completely smooth. Beat in the grated orange rind. Spread the icing over your cake using a knife dipped in hot water every so often for a smooth result. Sprinkle liberally with shredded coconut if you want to.

18 October 2013

How Much Should I Be Spending on Food?

How much should I be spending on food?  On average Australians spend around $200 a week on the food component of their grocery shopping (cleaning, toiletries, magazines etc. are additional).

That's a lot of money, and it's why I am asked so often how much you should be spending on food.

That's not an easy question answer. Every household is different. We're a family and household of five adults. We don't have any special dietary requirements. We live in a capital city with a vast range of supermarkets, grocers, butchers, greengrocers and markets. We have no debt.

We could easily spend $200 a week, or even more, on food if I didn't watch our grocery budget carefully.

I can't, shouldn't and won't tell you how much of your money you should spend on food.  I can and will happily tell you what we spend, how it's spent and what it's spent on (and I've covered this in other posts and in the Journal).

As I said every household is different. Your income will be different to ours, you'll live somewhere different to us, you may or may not have access to the variety of food sources I have and your financial commitments will be different. You may have a lot of debt or none, you may be on a good income or a low income. It's not my place to tell you how much to spend.

For this year, January through to the end of September our grocery bill has averaged $309 a month, about $60 per person per month. I budget for $320 a month, and the excess (when there is excess) goes into the grocery slush fund to pay for stockpile items and super fantastic specials too good to pass up.

I keep it down by having a set list and sticking to it. I buy as much as I can in bulk. I don't waste month on branded products unless we especially like them. I grow a lot of the vegetables we eat and what I don’t grow I buy in bulk and either freeze, bottle or dehydrate. I cook from scratch. And, and this is the biggie, we don't eat out very often (maybe twice a year) and takeaway is a once-a-month treat paid for out of our fun money.

If you want to get your grocery bill down, start with your next shop. Make a shopping list of exactly what you need and then stick to it.  Use your current grocery budget and try to come in under, 10 per cent under is a good starting point. If you find you can get everything on your list and still eat well, next shop trim your grocery budget by another 10 per cent. Keep trimming like this until you find you can't feed the family and buy everything you need, then just go back one week and use that as your grocery budget.

You can stick to it by shopping smarter and wiser. Look for less expensive substitutes, keep an eye out for good sales, shop around, stop wasting food by using everything you buy before it goes off and be more disciplined in your meal planning and shopping.

You don't need to go without the food you like or need. You do need to be clever and perhaps make some changes to the way you stock your pantry and fridge and to the way you think about grocery shopping (it's chore to be done, not a recreational activity).

There is no right or wrong amount for you to be spending on food. There is an optimal amount, that you can find using the 10 per cent reduction strategy, just right for you.

I don't want you to feel sad and deprived, that's not the point of spending less on your groceries. Take back control and make the choices that benefit you and your family. Ditch the stuff that's not important to you so you have the money to enjoy the things that are.

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When it Comes to Being Shopping Savvy It's First Things First

Every day I am asked "how do I get my grocery bill down?", it's something everyone wants to know.

Your grocery bill is the one bill you have absolute control over. You, and you alone, decide just how much money you spend on groceries each week. You choose what to buy, the brands you buy, the quantities you buy and where you buy those things.

So with those choices in mind, here's an outline of the strategies you can use to get your grocery bill down.

1.  Clean, organize and inventory your pantry, fridge and freezer. Cheapskates Club members can login and use the downloadable inventories on the Printable page.

2.  Decide how much you are going to spend and set your grocery budget
. It doesn't have to be the amount you are spending now. Try trimming last week's grocery bill by 10 per cent to start. If that works, next time you shop take another 10 per cent off and see if that works.  Keep going until you find you aren't buying everything you need, then add 10 per cent and stick to it for a few weeks. If it works, great, that's your optimal grocery budget. If after a few weeks you find it doesn't work, add 5 per cent and see if that makes a difference.

3.  Create a meal plan.
Whether it's weekly, fortnightly or monthly you need a meal plan. It is easier to work a meal plan to fit your shopping routine so if you shop weekly, meal plan weekly. If you shop monthly like I do, work on a monthly meal plan. Login and download the  current month's blank meal planner and my meal plan for the month to make meal planning easy.

4.  Collect the junk mail, the local papers and get online to find the store ads. Use them to write your shopping list and more importantly to familiarize yourself with the sale cycle, and just what comes on sale.

5. Stock up on staples. Every family has different staples, foods they always have on hand. Use these staples to start your grocery stockpile, buying one or two extra staples each time you shop and stocking up when they come on sale. Items such as baking goods, meat, breakfast cereals, toiletries, cleaning supplies, canned or frozen foods are usually staples in most homes and are a good starting point.

6.  Donate your extras.
Cheapskates live by the 10-10-80 rule: give 10 per cent, save 10 per cent and live off 80 per cent. Use some of your stockpile to donate to food banks and soup kitchens in your area. You don't need to give money, you can be generous with your time, skills and energy too.

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17 October 2013

Green Stuff

By far this past year the best grower in my garden has been the silverbeet. It hasn't stopped growing for almost 12 months. I don't know whether it was because I picked a few leaves every day or the odd winter we've endured, but it has grown, and grown, and grown some more and even now it hasn't gone to seed.

The warm, wet days we've had for the last few weeks have given it a little boost and it's been growing faster than I have been able to cut and use it. And I need the spot for beetroot for summer.

So on Sunday, which was quite an odd day weather-wise, I picked all the silverbeet. Two huge washing baskets full of it. I was able to pull out the roots and turn the soil over for my beetroot.

But what to do with all that silverbeet? I offered some to Mum, but she has her own growing. I offered some to a friend for her father, but he is growing his own too. I had to do something with it. It wasn't going into the compost.

After a cup of tea and a think I decided to wash it and dry it.

Dried and powdered, those washing baskets of silverbeet won't take up much space and it will last on the shelf for at least twelve months. Then it's easy to add a couple of tablespoons to soups or stews or casseroles and the nutrition boost will do us all good and no one need know they're getting their serve of silverbeet.

Out came the dehydrator. Now I only have a little three tray dehydrator that I bought at Aldi a few years ago, but it does a great job. But three trays at a time was going to take a while to get through all this green stuff. Or so I thought.

Before I could even think of drying it, I had to wash it and make sure there were no slugs hiding anywhere (I evicted a few from their leafy homes as I picked it). The kitchen sink was way to small. The laundry sink was too small, so the bath it was.  Two washing baskets of silverbeet half fill a normal bathtub, just in case you were wondering.

Once it was all washed it needed to be dried. Even I realised it would take ages to put that much green leafy stuff through the salad spinner so I compromised. I took the mesh laundry bags, shoved the silverbeet into them, zipped them up and pegged them to the clothesline. Then I spun it around and around and watched the water fly out. I wish I'd taken a photo, anyone looking over the back fence would wonder what on earth was going on. Anyway, it worked, the end result was spun dry silverbeet.

To dry the leaves I ripped them off the stalks. It was easy, just by holding the stalk in my right hand and running my left hand down it, the green leaves came away. The stalks I composted, and was happy to do so.

Then into the dehydrator the leaves went. Three trays at a time. It took two days, but it's all done. Leaves were crisp and dry, and really small.  

By the time they were whizzed through the food processor two washing baskets of silverbeet had been condensed down to this.

Dried foods have a long shelf life and they don’t take up a lot of space. I love my freezer, but I also love my dehydrator. They both serve a purpose in maintaining my stockpile.

As well as over-loads of silverbeet, I regularly dry onions, kale, apples and tomatoes for easy long-term storage.

Do you dry foods? Do you use the oven or do you have a dehydrator? What foods do you dry?

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Clean the Furniture at the Car Wash

Summer is just around the corner, if not already here for some. And with summer comes our love of outdoor living and that means tidying up the decks and verandahs and cleaning the signs of winter off the outdoor furniture.

You can do it with a bucket of water, the hose and some microfibre cloths and spend a sunny Sunday toiling away. Or you can take your plastic or resin furniture, stack it in the car and head to your nearest DIY car wash.

Just set the furniture up in the wash bay, pop your $2 coin in the slot and use the pressure wand. The whole setting will be done in just a couple of minutes, ready to take home and enjoy.

16 October 2013

Become a Deadbeat!

Beat the finance and credit card companies at their own game and become a deadbeat; that's what your credit card company will call you if you beat them.  I don't mean default on your responsibility, that's just plain dishonest. I mean pay that debt down so fast they'll think you've won lotto. Then make sure you pay the balance in full every month.

Your credit card company will think of you as a deadbeat, they won't like you one little bit. And who cares! They won't be making money off your misery, instead you'll be using their money to live debt free, cashed up and laughing.

When you pay your debt in full each month they don't make any money. They'd much rather you carry a hefty and ever increasing balance each month, so they own you for years.

Beat them at their own game and make them work for you by using your credit wisely and paying the balance in full before the due date every month.

15 October 2013

Fresh Peach Muffins

Sometimes you want a muffin that is more substantial, with less fluff and more fill. These are the muffins for you. They are more bread-like than cake-like, dense and moist and full of delicious flavour with the peaches, cinnamon and nutmeg.

1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup plain flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1/4 cup Greek yoghurt
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 peaches, peeled and finely diced
60g butter, melted
2 tbsp cinnamon sugar

Preheat your over to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a muffin tin with muffin papers. In a large bowl mix together your flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate soda, salt, cinnamon, and, nutmeg. Cut in your cold butter until a pastry cutter or a fork until the mixture forms course crumbles.

Combine the yoghurt, milk, eggs, and vanilla. Stir into your butter and flour mixture. The mixture will be very thick and dry. Fold in your peaches. The peaches will add moisture to the mix but it will still be fairly thick. Spoon mixture into your prepared muffin papers.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the centre of the muffin.

Let cool slightly, remove from tins to finish cooling. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar on top.

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12 October 2013

Oils Aint Oils

Some questions have been asked lately about why I use olive oil or coconut oil in my cooking.

So I'll tell you: oils aint oils.

Not all oils have the same health benefits or work as well in cooking.  And most definitely not all oils, no matter how they are marketed to us, are good for us.

I use olive oil for roasting vegetables because I love the flavour it gives them. I use it in savoury muffins, breads, scones and dressings because I love the flavour it gives them. It is also a good oil - one that generally hasn't been corrupted by manufacturing or GMOs - and the health benefits are many. I use EVOO for dressings and drizzling over salads.
Olive oil is very low in Omega 6 fatty acids (good to avoid) and very high in flavonoids (good for us). Buy your olive oil in cans or dark glass bottles and store it in a cool, dark cupboard for the best shelf life. Even so, use it within six months of opening it. It comes on sale regularly, so keep an eye open. For the best olive oil try and find locally produced oil from locally grown olives - you'll taste the difference straight away.

I use sunflower oil for frying. Olive oil doesn't do well with high temperatures, it has a very low smoke point, so it's not a good oil to use for frying. Sunflower oil on the other hand is light, can handle the higher temperature required for frying and has a nice neutral flavour. I also use it in sweet cakes, muffins, puddings and some marinades because of it's neutral flavour.

I use sesame oil (sparingly, it is very strong) in stir-fries and fried rice. It has a delightful, nutty flavour and really brings out the flavour of Asian style dishes. A small bottle will last a long, long time so I buy the smallest bottle I can find, otherwise it goes rancid and gets wasted, and as sesame oil is rather expensive I'd rather not waste it.

Unrefined, virgin coconut oil. I love the flavour it gives baking - just the tiniest hint of coconut. I also love the health benefits. Coconut oil is very high in fat, so if you are watching your weight eat it sparingly, but it's also very low in Omega 6 fatty acids (the really bad ones you want to avoid like the plague). This is a great oil, solid at room temperature. And you can whip it up and use it as a moisturiser after your shower, it's wonderful on dry skin.

As well as going into my soap, rice bran oil is good for stir fries as it less temperature sensitive than other oils. It's also good in bread.

And lastly butter. We don't do margarine in our house so butter is used as a spread, in baking and for sautéing. A little butter goes a long way and gives a rich flavour to gravies and sauces, and helps to thicken them naturally.

All the oils I buy, except the olive oil, are in small bottles and I keep them on the top shelf of the pantry, where it's cool and dark. Heat and light damage oil, so try and buy your oils in smaller (600ml max) dark glass bottles and store them like I do, in a cool, dark place or the fridge. 

Some chefs recommend storing oil in the fridge - it may go cloudy and thicken if you do. Don't worry, it's fine, a few minutes at room temperature quickly brings it back to normal. Our pantry doesn't get that hot, it maintains a fairly constant temperature year round so I don't bother with the fridge.

To use oil I put it into a spray bottle and simply squirt the pan or baking dish, rather than pour oil into it. For example when I do rosemary and garlic vegetables or even just baked potatoes, I put them in a bowl, squirt them a few times, add the herbs, toss them through and then tip the lot into the baking dish. The vegetables brown up beautifully without swimming in a sea of oil. To make wedges I do the same thing, adding paprika instead of herbs and roasting the potatoes for 30 minutes in a 220 degree oven (turn them after 15 minutes).

Using a spray bottle saves a lot of oil and saves a lot of money. I also use a pastry brush, just for oil. It comes in handy for brushing the inside of muffin cups and cake tins instead of using baking paper or cooking spray (which stains pans and leaves a sticky residue on them if it's not thoroughly washed off). It's also handy for brushing meat and vegetables while they're cooking.

Oil is expensive, but that doesn't mean it has to put a strain on your grocery budget. Shop and use it wisely and you'll be able to enjoy the benefits without the huge cost.

Disclaimer:   There is a ton of differing information available about oils and their health benefits. These are the oils I use. Bear in mind I'm not a chef or a nutritionist, I've chosen to use these oils after researching about them. These are the oils that fit within our budget, and that suit our attitude to a healthful diet. Do your own research and make your own decisions.

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11 October 2013

How To Buy Used Like A Pro

October is Buy Nothing New month. So what’s your opinion on buying used items?

Most people are split. Some love the idea of buying used while others abhor it.

I have to say that I am often undecided. I do like to buy used for some things and for others I prefer to buy new. Of course, there’s the financial and environmentally friendly reward when you buy used. And admittedly a bit of ego enters into the process because it just feels like a major accomplishment when you find a good used item for a low price.

Here’s what I like to buy used:

Cars – Love buying used cars because you save thousands of dollars!

Clothes - Why pay $150 for jeans when you can get them from the op shop for $5? Clothes are used the minute you hand over the money. And chances are they've been tried on in the store, so they've been worn before too. Make op shopping a habit and you'll always be fashionably dressed for a fraction of the retail price.

Furniture – There’s nothing quite so rewarding as buying a thousand dollar table for $100 and having it make your home more comfortable.

Books – Used books are a good idea when you absolutely need to have a book on your book shelf and the library or an ebook just won’t do.

Before you buy “used” however, it’s important to follow a few steps:

1. Do you NEED the item? Shopping is addictive and it’s easier to justify a “used” item because you’re spending less, right? Wrong. If you don’t need the item then you’re busting your budget for no good reason.

2. Be a discerning shopper. Whether you’re buying a used car or a used book it’s important to make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller. It’s also important to make sure you’re legally supported should anything go wrong. For example, if you buy a lemon from a car dealer what recourse do you have?

3. Shop like you would if it were new.  Whether you’re buying used or new there are a few important questions you should always ask:

    · Is it in my budget?
    · What value will this purchase provide?
    · Is there a less expensive option I’d be happy with?

Shopping “used” instead of always buying new helps keep items out of the landfills. It also helps you stick to a budget. However, buying used isn’t just an excuse to spend money. You still want to stick to the basic buying guidelines that help you stay in control of your money.

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Hypothetical: A transport strike stops deliveries

If all deliveries to all shops stopped today, would you be able to survive?

Is your pantry stocked with ingredients that you can use to prepare a variety of dishes? Is your freezer packed with meat, seafood, poultry, fruit and vegetables? Do you have a stockpile of toiletries and cleaning supplies?

What would you do? Imagine there is a national transport strike. How would you survive? Do you have food to last a day? Two or three days? A week? Could you go longer without having to find food? What about medicines? Baby needs?

I ask because today is the the date set for the start of a general strike by truck drivers in the USA, where no freight will be transported by road for at least three days, perhaps up to seven days.

That means no deliveries to supermarkets. No deliveries to butchers or markets. No milk deliveries. No pharmaceutical deliveries. No fuel deliveries. Nothing.

I imagine supermarket shelves will empty in minutes because most households don't run an active, working pantry. Many homes wouldn't have enough food to last more than one or two days. Some may be able to stretch to three or four days, but a week would find the food situation dire.

So imagine that could happen here. Imagine if just 25% of truck drivers chose to stop delivering.

Localized shortages would happen almost immediately as people panic buy bread and milk, meat and vegetables.

It wouldn't just be supermarket shelves that emptied either. It would be chemists, hardware stores, newsagents, department stores  and the corner milk bar.

With a fully stocked pantry you'd be just fine. While everyone else is pushing and shoving and queuing to buy bread and milk you would be safely and happily at home, preparing dinner from your pantry.

Would you be OK? Would you be able to maintain your standard of living? Or would you be one of the masses, panic buying staples, hoping they'll last to get you through?

This is just one scenario that could affect your food security.

Cheapskater Amanda and her family are regularly cut off from their nearest town for up to a week (sometimes it's been longer) by flood water (they live in rural Queensland). Without a stocked pantry they'd be in trouble. Amanda keeps a pantry stocked with ingredients so she can use to cook a variety of meals and foods from scratch, rather than having it stocked with ready-made foods that are good for one purpose only.

Even a week of being in bed with the flu could cause difficulties in many homes because there isn't a stocked pantry. There are dozens of reasons for maintaining a stockpile.

My stockpile is three months worth of basic pantry items: flours, sugars, dried fruits, cereals, spices, pasta, toiletries, cleaning supplies, jams, tea and coffee, milk powder, sauces, meat, poultry, fish and preserved fruits and vegetables.

I'm not suggesting for one minute that you rush out and spend a fortune stocking up on groceries. But having a small stockpile of basic groceries is a good idea.

Build your stockpile based on what you use regularly. There's no point having a dozen cans of tuna in the cupboard if you don't like it or use it. On the other hand a dozen cans of baked beans will get used if you love them and use them in lots of recipes (baked beans are a wonderful way to stretch mince-based meals).

Think about what you use, how you use it and then as you do your shopping put one or two stockpile items in the trolley. Use your grocery slush fund to pay for them or better still, leave one or two things you don't really need (soft drink, biscuits, chips, dips, flavoured milk, sugary cereals etc.) on the shelf and replace them with your stockpile items. By the way, all those things you can leave on the shelf you can easily MOO, and they'll be cheaper and healthier than anything you'll buy at the supermarket.

Do you have a stockpile? How did you build it? Where do you store it? How long can you live from it? Would a transport strike cause you to panic? Or would you not even notice it because you have a good stockpile? Please share your stories in the Comments below.